Delivering Critical Cybersecurity for Refugees

This article first appeared on Refugees Deeply

Refugees use libraryIraqi refugee Mustafa Altaie,23, writes an application on a library computer in Heilbronn, Germany. Marijan Murat/dpa

The refugee crisis in Europe has repeatedly highlighted the urgent need for communication technology for people on the move, from mapping their journeys to accessing services at their destinations.

Since leaders at the global I.T. and networking group Cisco saw the humanitarian situation on European borders escalating in 2015, they have tried to deploy the company’s products and people to improve connectivity for refugees in a scalable and sustainable way.

Working with nonprofit partners, the multinational company set up Wi-Fi hotspots in refugee camps across Greece, Slovenia and Serbia, and helped to develop first response centers in Germany that offer a real-time translation service. They have also deployed cloud security software to protect refugees from cyberthreats.

As part of our interview series with private sector leaders engaging in the refugee crisis, Refugees Deeply spoke to Erin Connor, Cisco’s portfolio manager for critical human needs, about the organization’s response to refugees’ needs.

Refugees Deeply: Could you describe a moment when you became convinced that the company had a role to play in addressing the refugee crisis?

Erin Connor: Cisco typically responds to natural disasters only, but the refugee situation became a humanitarian crisis of such proportions that, in October 2015, we chose to make an exception to our policy.

We started by expanding the scope of our annual hunger relief drive to include organizations responding to the refugee crisis, based on employee interest. We added over 40 NGOs to the campaign, and Cisco Foundation matched employee contributions dollar for dollar.

We subsequently awarded cash grants to nonprofit partners NetHope and Mercy Corps, and provided networking and communications equipment to the German Red Cross. In addition to these donations, Cisco took an active role in our area of expertise. We sent equipment and employees to Greece and Slovenia (and provided remote technical support and equipment for Serbia), to set up Wi-Fi hotspots at refugee camps in partnership with NetHope.

Refugees Deeply: How did you decide what would be the most useful and efficient role for the company to play?

Connor: We chose to pursue a multi-pronged approach to our response, leveraging our core competencies – our people, products, expertise and financial resources – to respond to the refugee crisis.

We have done this in a number of ways: by encouraging and matching the generosity of our employees to provide critical financial support to responding organizations; by awarding cash grants to strategic nonprofit partners to provide internet-based information and coordination services to refugees and NGOs on the ground, and by donating Cisco equipment to establish Wi-Fi hotspots and connectivity to refugees on the move and in camps. We have also provided time, expertise, and in-kind technical support through our Tactical Operations, Disaster Response Team volunteers and Central European team.

Refugees Deeply: What results have you seen from the company’s refugee programs to date, and what are your goals for the next year?

Connor: Cisco’s Tactical Operations (TacOps) engineers and Disaster Response Team volunteers have carried out 10 two-week deployments in partnership with the NGO NetHope to install Meraki-based Wi-Fi networks across Greece, Slovenia and Serbia.

A total of 75 sites (64 are currently active, as some have been decommissioned due to the moving population) have provided connectivity to over 600,000 unique user devices since November 2015. Using our cloud security software, we block an average of 2,000 cyberthreats per day.

Cisco also funded the prototype of the first two Refugee First Response Centers (RFRCs), which was a concept developed by the Cisco team in Hamburg and a range of ecosystem partners. The RFRC units are shipping containers transformed into doctors’ offices, equipped with Cisco technology that enables access to the internet and real-time translation for refugees.

The early units caught the attention of a local private donor, who funded the production of 10 additional units that have been produced and deployed to Red Cross camps throughout Hamburg, providing over 18,000 medical video-supported consultations to date. Two of the 10 units replaced the original RFRCs, and have been shipped to Lebanon and Greece for replication.

In terms of what’s next, we’ve committed equipment and employees’ expertise to support deployments with NetHope this next quarter to set up connectivity in an additional 12 sites.

Through our Networking Academy, we’ve committed to training 35,000 refugees in Germany over the next three years (15,000 by the end of this year). We’ve also just provided funding to Mercy Corps to support the expansion of Refugee Information Hub, a platform jointly developed with the International Rescue Committee, into seven new countries in 2017. The RFRC team (led by Cisco partner MLOVE) is also hoping to produce and deploy an additional 100 units.

Lastly, we’re planning to commission a third-party evaluation to look into the specific impacts of connectivity on refugee populations.

Refugees Deeply: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far in your work with refugees? What have you learned about the risks and opportunities that companies are likely to face in addressing the refugee crisis?

Connor: I think we’ve seen firsthand just how critical connectivity is for refugees. It’s a way for them to connect with loved ones, access critical information and even begin the asylum-seeking process in a new country. “Is there Wi-Fi?” is one of the first questions refugees ask when arriving in a new place.

As cyberthreats are becoming more advanced and prevalent, and data privacy and protection is vital for the refugee population, the importance of building cybersecurity protections into the network architecture cannot be understated.

As it is apparent that refugees may be in these camps for an extended period of time, the issue of education is becoming more urgent. Having connectivity opens up opportunities for online training and remote education that could benefit children as well as adults seeking to gain job skills.

With every deployment we are learning lessons and developing best practices to improve function and efficiency. For example, we now have solution “kits” that can be built ahead of time in a controlled environment, and easily and quickly installed upon arrival at a camp.

Field deployments also give us a lot of insight into how our products function under real-world and often extreme conditions, which we then feed back to our product teams who can develop enhancements and new features. Our TacOps team also quickly learned that the internet lines in a camp need to be clearly labeled – no one wants to be that person who cuts off connectivity for an entire camp.

Refugees Deeply: How are you measuring the success of the company’s refugee programs?

Connor: We provide in-kind support, technical expertise and equipment through our TacOps team, cash grants to nonprofit partners and I.T.training through our Networking Academy, so we evaluate success differently across these three categories.

In establishing Wi-Fi, we look at the number of refugees connected to the internet, and the number of cyberthreats blocked through our networks. It’s important to us that they not only benefit from connectivity, but that they are also protected from any outside threats to their identity or safety.

Through our Networking Academy, we are tracking the number of refugees in Germany that take and complete our I.T. training courses.

Through our cash grants, we base our success on the ability of our nonprofit partners to meet the performance metrics they set. For example, we have just provided funding to help expand Refugee.Info. Some success metrics for this project include number of users, countries and user ratings to understand refugees’ satisfaction with the platform and content provided, which will inform future product development or service improvements.

The App Helping Africa’s Midwives Save Lives

This article first appeared on the Women & Girls Hub from News Deeply

A mobile health project in Ethiopia gives any health worker with a smartphone access to the information they need to deal with emergencies during childbirth. Now it’s being scaled up to reach 10,000 health workers across Africa and Southeast Asia by 2017.

A midwife at Gimbi Health Center in West Wellega, Ethiopia, uses the Safe Delivery App to help her carry out an examination on a patient. Photo by Mulugeta Wolde

For Ethiopian mother Mitike Birhanu, the birth of her twins almost ended in tragedy. She was unconscious when the second of her babies was delivered, and the newborn seemed lifeless. But her midwife quickly consulted an app on her smartphone, diagnosed the problems, and used emergency procedures to save both Mitike’s life and that of her child.

Every year, over 300,000 women globally die from pregnancy-related causes, and over 5 million babies die during birth or within the first weeks of their lives. Yet the vast majority of maternal and newborn deaths could be prevented if health workers attending births had better emergency skills and knowledge.

Many health workers in low- or middle-income countries work in environments where there is no electricity or running water. But one thing they do have is smartphones.

The Safe Delivery App (SDA) was created as a simple tool for health workers such as midwives and nurses to access basic emergency obstetric and neonatal care skills. Developed by Danish NGO Maternity Foundation in collaboration with the University of Southern Denmark and the University of Copenhagen, the app aims to train and instruct birth attendants on how to manage potentially fatal complications during pregnancy and childbirth.

Based on global clinical guidelines, the SDA contains four basic features: animated instruction videos, action cards, a drug list and practical procedure instructions. The five- to seven-minute videos teach lifesaving skills such as how to stop a woman bleeding after birth or how to resuscitate a newborn. When there is no time to watch the full video, the action cards give clear, essential recommendations and immediate care information – such as how to mix an alcohol-based hand rub.

The SDA is free to download from Google Play and the App Store. And it can be preinstalled on phones, so once it’s downloaded, users don’t need a network connection or internet access to view the videos or other features.

Meaza Semaw, project coordinator at the Ethiopian Midwives Association, says the app is ideal for places like Ethiopia, where women’s access to quality maternal health services is challenging, especially if they experience complications in birth. “The Safe Delivery App is a great tool to improve maternal health in Ethiopia. Most midwives, if not all, have a mobile phone, so accessibility is very high,” she says. “The app is easy to use because it is supported by animations and videos. In addition, it uses local languages.”

With the support of the MSD for Mothers program, the first four of the app’s 10 videos were tested in a one-year, randomized controlled trial across 78 facilities in Ethiopia during 2014. Results show users’ skills in handling most common complications such as postpartum hemorrhage and newborn resuscitation more than doubled after 12 months of using the app.

The app was officially launched in April 2015, and a year later was chosen by the Women Deliver conference as an example of how a partnership-based innovation can help end maternal and newborn mortality. SDA is now currently in use in Kenya, with plans to roll out to Guinea, Sierra Leone, Myanmar, Laos and India in the coming months.

So far, the app has been funded with help from over $50,000 in donations through an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, and Maternity Foundation is working with partners in individual countries to fund the translation and rollout of the app. The hope is to be able to fulfill the commitment Maternity Foundation made to the U.N.’s Every Woman Every Child to reach 10,000 health workers with the app by the end of 2017, so ensuring a safer birth for 1 million women.

At Wollega University in Ethiopia, student midwives use the app during training. (Mulugeta Wolde)At Wollega University in Ethiopia, student midwives use the app during training. (Mulugeta Wolde)

Maternity Foundation CEO Anna Frellsen says the organization is working in partnership with governments, midwives’ associations and larger NGOs to achieve its goal. “We really want to see the app integrated as part of the existing health system in countries, and we are starting to engage with the [health] ministries and stakeholders in each country to find out how it can be used and adapted,” she says.

The Ethiopian Midwives Association is currently working on integrating the SDA into its ongoing training program. Frellsen hopes other health organizations in participating countries will do likewise.

There is also a new version of the app in the works, which will feature quizzes and a test (rewarded by a certificate) to “push” learning to the user and make the experience more interactive.

Frellsen says one of the key components of Maternity Foundation’s “backbone” support for its partners will be disseminating learning around the SDA and mobile health in general. “We are looking at how we can publish some of the learning for sharing with others who would like to use the app, but also more broadly as a case for how to scale up an mHealth [mobile health] tool,” she says.

In western Ethiopia’s Gimbi rural district, the midwife who saved Mitike’s life says the Safe Delivery App has already made her better at her job. “I am confident that from what I have learned from the app, I can stop [a mother] bleeding,” says Yane Ababaw. “I can save her life.”

A Future in Code: Building Life Skills in Syria

This article first appeared on the Women & Girls Hub from News Deeply

Motivated by a desire to rebuild Syria’s devastated economy, enterprising young women in the war-torn country are turning to tech to help others of their generation find employment – and better futures.

Leen Darwish, right, developed her Arabic-language platform Remmaz to address the gap in non-English-language programming resources that are available to Arab communities. Photo by UNFPA Syria/Ghassan Ahmad

 

For the past five years, 22-year-old Syrian student Leen Darwish has seen her country ruined by bombings, battles and one of the biggest population displacements in modern history. But determined to help rebuild the nation’s economy for her fellow young people, Darwish – a computer science undergraduate at the University of Damascus – has launched an award-winning, Arabic-language app to help young people in Syria, and beyond, learn to code.

Just six months since its launch, Darwish’s Remmaz app already has over 5,000 active users learning to code, design websites and develop apps (application programs) on the platform she and her business partner started developing while they were second-year university students. Their aim is to create an accessible, Arabic online learning MOOC (massive open online course) to address the lack of non-English programming resources available to Arab communities, particularly young people looking for employment in conflict-scarred Syria.

Darwish and her team are in the process of crunching the data to find out more about Remmaz’s users. However, they already know that most are based in Morocco and aged between 20 and 23 – university-age students looking for work opportunities, she suggests.

“Remmaz is a startup whose mission is to make an evolution in online learning about programming in the Arab world, to empower people to learn about cutting-edge technology tools through Arabic content, in an easy and accessible way, to let them be qualified for a job opportunity in one of the highest-paid jobs – programming,” says Darwish.

The conflict in Syria has created 5 million refugees and internally displaced a further 13.5 million residents – a total of 18.5 million people forced from their homes in a country that, before the conflict began, had a population of 23 million. Secondary education has dropped by 44 percent, causing an estimated economic loss of over $10 billion – equivalent to nearly 18 percent of the national GDP.

Darwish launched Remmaz after attending a three-week training course in December 2015, supported by the UNFPA’s Innovation Fund, on how to start and manage a small business. She initially heard about the course through her startup incubator. Having developed her idea, she was keen to gain some commercial skills and make contacts.

“I began my startup when I was in the second year of university, so I lacked business knowledge and entrepreneurship culture,” she says, speaking from her adopted city of Damascus; she left her home town of Harasta when the conflict made it untenable for her family to remain there. “This program was a great opportunity, as the mentors and trainers have 20 years of real experience in this field, which was really important for me.”

People taking part in the UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) program, run in partnership with local NGOs, ranged from 22 to 30 years of age and came from different ethnic groups and regions. Like Darwish, they had been displaced by the conflict in Syria. Nearly 200 people applied for 28 places; 20 of the 28 were women.

Through lectures, workshops and mentoring, participants were supported as they worked to fine-tune their plans and develop their tech-based small businesses. Delivered by enterprise experts, the training covered marketing, accounting, business planning, communications and leadership skills.

At the end of the course, 17 projects were chosen for further UNFPA support. Along with Remmaz, they included computer maintenance, after-school programs and online computer games. More recently, Remmaz won an entrepreneurship competition for Syrian startups, taking a $15,000 prize that will go towards expanding the app, says Darwish.

Bruce Campbell, UNFPA global coordinator for the organization’s Data for Development platform, says the program helps “to improve the resilience of Syrian young people by supporting them with critical life skills and strengthening their ability to cope with difficult circumstances.”

But he acknowledges that the program has had its challenges, from the high volume of applicants to the limited ability to travel throughout the country, making it difficult to expand the project.

Of the 28 students on the UNFPA's startup training course, 20 were women. (UNFPA Syria)Of the 28 students on the UNFPA’s startup training course, 20 were women. (UNFPA Syria/Ghassan Ahmad)

Based on the innovation program’s success in Damascus, UNFPA has since rolled out the training to two more Syrian governorates, Homs and Tartous. Campbell hopes it will continue to scale up in Syria, with the ambition of rolling out the program over two years.

“The program encourages young people to submit projects jointly, supporting them to become comfortable working together across ethnic divisions,” he says. “For example, it would not be uncommon to see young people from Aleppo sending textiles to youth in Tartous, and young people from Tartous sending IT equipment to counterparts in Aleppo.”

After graduation this summer, Darwish plans to take a master’s degree in artificial intelligence and organize “hackathons” in collaboration with UNFPA and Damascus Girl Geeks. But she remains focused on her vision for Syria. “Big businesses are closing and the problems we are facing only young people can solve,” she says. “The need for startups and entrepreneurship culture is really essential for Syria.”